As I stated in the previous post this index card process makes it easy to take a step back and look at your entire movie. It also makes it easier to rework it. It is much easier to take a sequence (a few cards) and shuffle it around on the board to a place where it works better. You can even remove a few cards and see if a sequence or scene is even working within your movie. If you don't miss the cards then it probably doesn't belong in your story. A helpful tool is to use different colored cards. You can use one color for emotional beats, another for plot and another for scene headings, etc. I used different colors like a revision mode on Final Draft. One color for every time I sat down and made changes. I started with blue, moved to white, then pink, green and purple. As you can see from the picture in my previous post, there was a lot of of different colors and not much blue left, but that's okay because it is so much easier to write a few words on a card than a few paragraphs of an outline/treatment or worse yet, many pages of a script. Better to get it right now than wrong later. I really do recommend trying this out.
I certainly didn't invent this technique and I am sure a lot of people use it. Before I go into this process I want to back up and describe how I got to this point. As I said in the previous post there are loads of books out there on the craft of screenwriting. Believe me when I say I have probably read most of them. I think a lot of it was out of procrastination but some of it was to gleen little bits of information. I recommend having at least the basic overall story in your mind when reading these books because as you read something in the book it might spark an idea or direction you hadn't thought of. There are two books (not really books since I got them off the internet) that helped me the most.
The first of the two was THE EIGHT SEQUENCE STRUCTURE. I found that this book really helped in the overall structure of my story. It helped me keep the plot focused and it also put a 90 minute screenplay into 8 bite-sized chunks or as Chris Soth puts it: "mini-movies." Having worked in television animation for many years I got used to working/writing 11 minutes at a time, so his book was perfect for me. 8 eleven minute cartoons equals an 88 minute movie! This is not to say that each "mini-movie" is exactly 11 minutes long. A trick I realised was that if you make your first sequence the longest (it is the most important one since this is where you set up the plot of your movie and all of the main characters) and gradually make the subsequent sequences shorter you get a built-in pacing that becomes more frantic by the end of your movie. Chris' book is well written and easy to read. Again, with my story in mind, I took notes as I read, writing down any ideas that his chapters may have sparked.
The other "book" that I found the most helpful was THE HERO'S JOURNEY. We are all aware of Joseph Campbell's amazing work, but I found Kal Bashir's version very helpful and almost magical. Again, with story in mind (with help from Chris Soth), I was able to follow his "journey" of the hero and apply it to mine. Anywhere I was having trouble I found that this work almost always answered the call. I felt like I was cheating sometimes, like I was looking in the back of my math book for answers. But if you go through any great story you will find the same steps. And even though the steps are exactly the same, it is up to the writer (as well as the rest of the visionary team) to make them different, fresh and exciting.
Okay, now back to those index cards. Once I had my story figured out I set about putting them up on my big board. To help things I divided the board into eight equal parts (mini-movie sequences). On an index card I wrote down either a story point or scene heading or character action (usually to do with their introduction or arc) and placed them in order on the board until the board was full. I didn't put down any real detail, but if I came up with an interesting bit I just wrote it down in my notebook to save for the outline. I find that doing this technique allows me to look at the entire "movie" at once and also kind of see the pacing as well as the overall arcs of the characters. On the above picture (click it for a larger version) you will see that that is my entire movie. There are also holes where cards used to be. This is a picture of the board after I started refining the story. I will talk more about that in the next post. I hope this post was helpful in some way.
Whoever says writing is easy is either lying or a hack. Writing, for me, is THE hardest (and loneliest) part of creating a cartoon. I've been drawing since I could pick up a pencil so I am relatively, and I stress relatively, comfortable with that, but I have only been writing in a real "script" format for a few years now. Granted, working on shows llke Dexter's Laboratory or The Powerpuff Girls I was techically writing but, to me, that process of writing/boarding is a different and more appropriate way of "writing" a cartoon. I think that my years as a storyboard artist has helped me in thinking visually while writing a script which is comprised solely of words and no pictures to help sell an idea. Much like storyboarding, I try to put timing in my writing so that the reader will get a sense of how the scenes and sequences play out. I've read a ton of books on writing and a ton of scripts to "learn" the craft of writing, some of which I will share with you, but nothing teaches you more than just DOING. Over the next couple of months I want to document this process of "doing." There won't be much in the way of art to look at, but I hope that these posts are, nonetheless, an entertaining look at the process.
Next up: The process of using index cards to help plot your story.
Since posting here is oh-so-slow, I thought I might share with you all some of my other work. All my life I wanted to have a comic strip in the newspaper. It's where I learned to draw. A few years ago I started putting together a strip for submissions to the syndicates. I abandoned it before I sent it out for various reasons. Anyway, It's called "Hi, Hun! I'm Home" and it's about the henpecked homelife of Attila The Hun. Click on the title of this post to check 'em out!